Congratulations to Black Hawk College alumnus Chad Pregracke of East Moline, Ill., for being named CNN’s Hero of the Year!
Chad was one of 10 CNN Heroes of 2013, each receiving $50,000 for their efforts to help change the world. This year’s top 10 were nominated by CNN’s global audience. They also will be honored at “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute,” airing at 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1.
Chad was chosen as the top hero after five weeks of public voting. His organization, Living Lands & Waters, will receive $250,000.
Chad grew up with the Mississippi River in his backyard. He spent countless hours on and in the river and watched the progressive deterioration of its shores with litter and debris.
In 1997, while a 23-year-old Black Hawk College student, Chad began cleaning up the Mississippi River. He quickly expanded from a one-man project into a national non-profit organization, cleaning up rivers across the country.
“Completing my associate degree was quite the challenge,” he said. “Attending classes became next to impossible. I was out on a cleanup barge for weeks at a time.”
Black Hawk College worked with him so he could complete his degree while working on the rivers. His final classes were independent study, and the college literally ferried assignments to him.
“I actually finished my last three classes from a houseboat. I’d be studying in the boat with six other people living on it,” Chad said.
“I’d be wearing chain saw headphones in the back room trying to study. It was pretty tough.”
He earned an associate in science degree from Black Hawk College in May 2001.
“It’s safe to say that, without my community college education, especially at Black Hawk College, I would not be where I find myself today,” Chad said.
In June 2002, Chad was honored with the Jefferson Award, America’s version of the Nobel Prize for public service.
Chad was named one of the American Association of Community Colleges Outstanding Alumni in 2006 and received the 2007 Illinois Community College Trustees Association Distinguished Alumnus Award. Black Hawk College nominated him for both awards. He was inducted into Black Hawk College Alumni Hall of Fame in 2010 and was named one of the 2004 Leaders Under 40 through the Black Hawk College Foundation.
He has returned to Black Hawk College several times to speak to various student groups. Most recently he spoke to a group of Chinese high school students who visited the college’s Quad-Cities Campus as part of the Rivers as Bridges program.
Chad enthralled the students with his river cleanup stories and encouraged them to take action to clean up rivers in China. He told them to start small, persevere and believe strongly in what they want to accomplish.
“I’ve read in Chad’s autobiography that his childhood love of the river was what drove him to clean it up,” said retired Black Hawk College professor Paul Cioe, who taught Chad in English 101.
“What better way to spend one’s life than to build a career that binds a person’s work to his play?” he said.
Black Hawk College is proud to have Chad Pregracke as an alumnus.
Media coverage of the CNN Heroes announcement: